Thiem tweens to win over Monfils

 - Ian Chadband

Dominic Thiem’s wonder shot adorns his last-16 domination of magician Gael Monfils.

Dominic Thiem© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Fabrice Santoro told Dominic Thiem in his post-match on-court interview that he had just played the most wondrous point of the tournament on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Too true! Who were we to argue with the man they once called ‘The Magician’?

“I’m talking to one of my role models - you did it nearly every match,” the modest Thiem suggested to Santoro as he reflected on the incredible full-sprint, deadly accurate 'tweener that was the outrageous highlight of his 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 demolition of Gael Monfils, a coruscating triumph that saw him book his place in the quarter-finals for the fourth straight year.

Yet in truth, even Santoro could not have hoped to conjured anything quite this dazzlingly athletic and skilful. This, after all, really was tennis sorcery for the third Millennium.

So, let’s take you back to early in the third set, with Thiem already having assumed complete control. At the start of the third game, Monfils began Santoro’s “point of the tournament” by delivering an exquisite drop shot which had Thiem scurrying desperately from three metres behind the baseline to scoop it back over the net at a devilish angle.

The Frenchman did fantastically well to reach it and direct it into the open court for what seemed a certain winner. Yet with astounding alacrity, Thiem scuttled back again and still at full pelt, somehow contrived to whip a forehand 'tweener onto the baseline for an unforgettable winner. 

Monfils, a perennial purveyor of wonders himself, could only clap his racquet in appreciation.

“It was really amazing, of course, because it was the only choice I had. I was so far off the ball and couldn't play it any different way. And if that ball goes in, it's always a big highlight. It’s so lucky that it went in,” said the modest Austrian, when luck actually had nothing to do with it. “And when it goes in, it’s a hot shot!”

Yes, molten hot. For this was the day when Thiem, who cheerfully accepts his former coach Günter Bresnik’s description of him as a “sleeping volcano”, finally erupted into life at this Roland-Garros.

Smoother progress

He had hitherto been spitting fire only intermittently as he needed four sets in each of his first three matches to progress.

This, though, was a full-blown eruption as he put paid to Monfils with a barrage of 27 winners, allied to the relative solidity of coughing up just 14 unforced errors, his lowest in any contest here so far. “It was my best match - by far,” Thiem declared, after despatching the last home hope in the singles, who had looked particularly dangerous this year after breezing through the first three rounds without dropping a set.

Alas for Monfils, the perennial nearly-man who was bidding here to reach the quarters for a fifth time, thus equalling the French Open era record of Henri Leconte and Yannick Noah, he simply dawdled out of the blocks, serving two double faults in his opening service game and then finding himself 5-1 down before he could rub his eyes and actually start to play.

When he did, the fare was splendidly entertaining but Thiem always seemed in control. "I have to be honest, he helped me a little bit, because he had a really bad start. Life on court is way easier if you're up 5-2 double break after only 20 minutes. That really helped me and after that I stayed solid. It was the first match for me at this tournament where it didn't have any up-and-downs."

Noted the Frenchman: "Where he impressed me a lot with respect to other matches, he made less errors. Usually he makes more errors. He gets more, well, angry or excited, and today was a bit less. And when he was getting excited, it was in the court."

Yes, thrillingly so, and in this form, the 2018 finalist, who will meet either Karen Khachanov or Juan Martin Del Potro in the last-eight, could take some subduing. Especially with the "Dominator" now adding a touch of tweener fantasy to his armoury.